13. Candor

After a cursory greeting with the driver (to whom Russwood explained Reese’s presence only as a “consultant”) the former Senator raised the privacy partition in the limousine. It was a good two hours’ drive to his house in the Hamptons, and Reese wondered which of them would prove to be the better interviewer, since the elderly gentleman’s mind was still sharp and his eyes did not seem to miss anything.

“So. John. Westerton, is it?” was Russwood’s opening gambit.

“Yes,” Reese replied with an enigmatic smile.

“You and Mr. Smith are… what? Partners?”

“He’s my employer, but I like to think that we work well as a team.”

“I see.” Russwood paused and glanced out of the window at the already-bustling city. “So what exactly is the name of your company? ‘Smith and Westerton’?”

Reese burst out laughing. “Ha! I hadn’t thought of that… That’s purely a coincidence, I assure you. We both have so many aliases that it’s hard to keep track of them, let alone coordinate them deliberately.”

Russwood stared at him for a moment, astonished, but mostly because he had not expected such candor. Reese returned his gaze with a wry grin.

“Mr. Russwood, I won’t insult your intelligence by playing this charade ad nauseum. But I’m hoping you will excuse us if we wish to maintain a degree of… anonymity. We really were on vacation yesterday, not planning on getting involved in anything of this nature, so I have to confess that I’m not as well-prepared as I usually am. But we’re both committed to solving this mystery for you to the best of our abilities.”

“What are you? FBI? CIA?” the older man asked bluntly.

“The CIA has no operations within the United States,” Reese answered in a sing-song tone, as if by rote. “And I don’t think the FBI would get involved in personal cases like this, unless they were trying to infiltrate a criminal organization. You don’t happen to own a criminal enterprise, do you?”

“No,” Russwood huffed.

“Well then. Suffice it say, Harold and I are not law enforcement.”

“What are you, then? Private contractors? Mercenaries?”

Reese remembered the expression that Finch had first used to describe himself.

“More like… a concerned third party,” he smiled. “We help people, Mr. Russwood – people like you who find themselves the target of some nefarious criminal plot. Ordinarily, we take on cases where the victims are powerless to defend themselves. You are not powerless, of course – you have the means to hire a private contractor to investigate this situation. However, if there is even the remotest possibility that your granddaughter is at risk, I would rather investigate this myself and make sure that it’s handled properly. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t, and neither would Harold.”

Russwood’s eyes narrowed as he mulled over this information.

“So… what are you, then? Some sort of… crime-fighting vigilante?”

“You could say that.”

“And when you help the helpless, do you expect payment from them?”

“No. Although I daresay Harold might send you a modest invoice for our services, seeing as how you can afford it.”

“But then… where do your funds come from? If you aren’t law enforcement…”

Reese chuckled. “Oh, that’s not a problem – Harold has more money than God.”

Russwood pondered this in silence for a while, giving Reese a chance to look at the scenery outside. They were quickly leaving the congestion of the City behind.

“So. You’re like Batman and Robin, only without the outlandish getup,” Russwood finally commented.

“I suppose so,” Reese replied, amused. “Only Harold is like the Boy Wonder and Alfred and Q from the James Bond movies all rolled into one.”

Russwood eyed him for a moment before stating, “You really love him, don’t you.” It was not a question.

“Yes, I do,” Reese answered, unabashed. “He’s an exceptional man – kind, compassionate, and generous. I owe him my life, possibly even my soul… if I still have such a thing.”

“So you really were a borderline alcoholic?”

“Yes. I was even contemplating suicide when Harold found me. I no longer work for the government, Senator, but I did its dirty work long enough to lose all faith in the System. And oddly enough, I still had enough of a conscience left that my evil deeds were torturing me. What I do now… is something of a penance.”

“I see,” Russwood murmured. “I’ve seen enough of war to know what you’re talking about. There were things that I did, under orders, that… well. I suppose I did my penance by trying to represent my constituents’ interests.”

Reese nodded. “There are very few people who can honestly say that they have no regrets in life. But some of us know… exactly how heavy a human life can weigh on one’s conscience.”

“And what about your Harold? What drives him to give of his wealth, however boundless it may be, to help the weak and downtrodden?”

“I can’t say for sure… There’s much about his past that he hasn’t told me,” Reese admitted. “He’s haunted by it, and by the knowledge that he could have helped more… and failed, or was powerless, to intervene. But I think ultimately he cares for the good of mankind.”

“He hasn’t told you what motivates him, and yet you still love him?” Russwood pointed out.

“Yes,” Reese smiled, with genuine warmth. “Because I know who he is, inside. I know that he’s a good man. I know he would do everything in his power – he is doing everything in his power – to help and protect the innocent. And despite his best efforts to put up a cool, dispassionate façade, he really is human. Adorably so.”

He wondered if such effusion would unsettle the elderly gentleman, but Russwood took it in stride.

“So… your clients. How do you find them?” he asked, changing the subject, though not from discomfort.

“I can’t tell you that – partly because the technology is beyond my comprehension. But let’s just say that… Harold has figured out a way to eavesdrop on certain devices – searching for keywords that would indicate plans for serious, violent crimes – that allows him to predict who will be involved.”

“Eavesdropping! That sounds illegal.”

“It is illegal,” Reese assured him cheerfully. “That’s why we operate under aliases. If the government ever caught on – or even the local police – we’d be arrested and thrown into a bottomless pit, never to be seen or heard of again. We’d like to avoid that if at all possible.”

Russwood gaped at him for a full minute.

“And yet… you would risk all that, just to help…?”

Reese inclined his head. “Like I said, it’s our penance,” he said softly.

“When you could take off to some foreign country – somewhere warm, where there’s no extradition – and live a life of ease?”

“Well… perhaps that will become a necessity in the future,” Reese considered, “in the event that the authorities close in on us, or one of us becomes seriously injured. But it’s more likely that we’ll end up dead, bleeding on the street or stuffed in some dumpster in a back alley.”

Russwood was amazed by the peace in Reese’s eyes.

“I don’t know how you do it,” he said flatly.

Reese’s mouth curved into wry smile. “Senator, when you were in Korea, in the few moments of quiet when you weren’t marching or under fire, what – or who – did you think about?”

“My girl back home,” he confessed. “Not my wife – she came along later – but my high school sweetheart. I dreamed of coming home and holding her again, of having a real Thanksgiving dinner…” He returned his penetrating gaze to Reese. “I see what you’re saying… Harold is your rock, your anchor.”

“Yes. As long as we have each other, we’re invincible.”

Finch was left standing on the curb, feeling (to his own surprise) rather forlorn after seeing Reese and the Senator drive off. He had never required Reese to keep his earpiece with him when off-duty, knowing he could always contact him through his cell, but now found himself seriously considering changing that. Neither of them could have predicted that they would have become involved in this new assignment, of course, when they were supposed to be having a “spa vacation,” but it vexed Finch to not be able to stay in constant communication with Reese as he usually did when they were working a case. He was even limited in how much he could eavesdrop through Reese’s cell today, for the stupid reason that he had forgotten to bring their chargers to the hotel.

As he rode a cab to an intersection near the library, he began making a mental list of devices to pack in an emergency kit, which grew to include first aid supplies by the time he had settled himself into his chair and turned on the monitor. His first order of business, however, was to delete or corrupt the video surveillance footage from around the hotel last night, so that should the police choose to investigate them for evidence of the attempted burglary, there would be nothing to identify the man who had turned the tables on the small-time thief.

Watching the footage of the street, seeing Reese in action from a different angle, Finch appreciated anew the smooth, seemingly-effortless movements of his body, the skill and efficiency with which he had incapacitated his opponent. And then he remembered how those same hands – so deadly when required to be – had caressed him with such tenderness, touching him in ways that he had never been touched before…

Finch found it necessary to make use of the facilities, and realized with some irony that if Reese had been wearing the earpiece today, he might have needled him as to the reason why he had turned off his microphone for so long. Not for the first time, he wondered if it had been wise to promise the other man nothing but the truth.

Once the Senator’s curiosity about them had been satisfied, Reese asked him more in-depth questions about the men he had listed as candidates for wiretapping or monitoring his house. None of them seemed to have enough motive to go to such lengths, so he then turned the focus of his questioning to the daughter’s husband. He discovered that the couple were, indeed, in the process of filing for a divorce, and that the man was fighting furiously to retain his rights to see his daughter.

“But why would Evan want to spy on me?” Russwood said in some exasperation. “Sure he could get the funds for it – I can’t imagine that his father would cut him off completely – but what could he hope to accomplish by it?”

“I’m not sure,” Reese answered frankly. “It’s just that… I know from experience that most violent crimes involve people who know each other, and a marriage turned sour – especially when there are children involved – can make people do strange things. For instance, was this divorce your daughter’s idea, or yours?”

“I think Janet is smart enough to decide on her own what’s best for her,” Russwood replied, somewhat defensively. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a man doing cocaine and God knows what other drugs isn’t going to be a good father for Isabella.”

“No. But tell me, Senator: if you were brutally honest with yourself, would your daughter have gone so far as to file for a divorce if you hadn’t expected it of her? Or would she have stayed with her husband, hoping that he would get clean and turn his life around?”

The older man opened his mouth to reply, but something in Reese’s steady gaze made him reconsider. He replayed a hundred memories, it seemed, all of his daughter and how happy she had been in the early years of her courtship with Evan, and even into their marriage. How she had defended her husband when he had criticized Evan’s lack of financial savvy. How she had always hoped for the best in people and thereby had aspired some of them to become better than they had expected themselves.

“You… You might have a point,” he finally admitted. “So are you saying, Evan might blame me for the divorce? Even though he’d practically nailed his own coffin by getting involved in drugs?”

“Drug addicts are rarely rational people,” Reese pointed out. “Even though he’s been placed in rehab, he may still resent being forced to get clean – the very thing you, your daughter, and his parents meant for good, he may consider a hardship… maybe even harassment. He may not view the divorce as a logical outcome of his own behavior. But first, we need to see if he’s really the one who’s set up surveillance on you – or even if you’re the target of it. It may be that your daughter or granddaughter is the real target.”

“You mean he might try to kidnap Isabella?” the Senator demanded in alarm.

Reese shrugged, trying to put the man at ease. “It’s possible. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time an estranged parent chose desperate measures to keep their child. But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves – first we need to see what kind of equipment has been set up in your house.”

Russwood nodded in agreement, and they rode in silence the rest of the way.


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